Being an adult is hard for many, impossible for some. The White family of Grand Coulee, Wash., falls near the hopeless end of the spectrum, their lives running to violence, booze, estrangement and recklessness. This is the focus of Whiskey, told with a strong hand by Bruce Holbert (The Hour of Lead, Lonesome Animals), who infuses the upbringing of brothers Andre and Smoker with just enough humor to bridge the hard stuff.

Told in three alternating time periods, the novel begins in August 1991 with "Exodus," which finds the Whites on ever-diverging paths. Andre's marriage is ending, his parents are aging far from gracefully and Smoker's daughter needs rescuing, setting the brothers off on a road trip involving a mysterious preacher and a bear lured from a tree with a picnic ham tied to a rope.

As the brothers discuss life, love, blame and shame, Holbert takes readers through five decades of family saga--sections "Genesis" and "Lamentations." The meeting and courtship of matriarch Peg (a hell-raiser who "could put a year's living into a long weekend") and Pork (who would maim for her) begins when "they took the wrong turn that was each other" and lived life with a full head of booze-fueled steam.

Andre and Smoker's childhood is bleak, ducking thrown dishes just a normal day's calisthenics. Holbert's descriptions and dialogue, however, are to be savored, particularly as the brothers struggle to come to terms with their destructive past and accept who they have become. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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